Magic, mystery and mice


CHILDREN’S BOOKS OF THE YEAR:The Christmas story seen through the eyes of a donkey, first love, a boy soldier and a mysterious key all feature in ROBERT DUNBAR's best children's books of the year

Al Capone Shines My Shoes

By Gennifer Choldenko (Bloomsbury, £6.99)

Friendship with Alcatraz’s most famous inhabitant brings its rewards – and complications – for young Moose and his family.

Age: 10

A Trick of the Dark

By BR Collins (Bloomsbury, £7.99)

A teenage boy dies – or does he? – following an accident: a supernatural thriller of strong emotions and strong language.

Age: 15


By Jane Mitchell (Walker, £5.99)

Set in Kashmir, this powerful novel traces young Rafiq’s transformation from boy to boy soldier and its effects on his family’s life.

Age: 12

Colm the Lazarus Key

By Kieran Mark Crowley (Mercier, €8.99)

This Irish adventure story features boy cousins, allegedly cursed books and a mysterious key, wrapped together with wit and humour.

Age: 10

Eating Things on Sticks

By Anne Fine (Doubleday, £10.99)

Young Harry, a bachelor uncle and the latter’s girlfriend have the holiday from hell on a remote island: hilarious!

Age: 10

Esty’s Gold

By Mary Arrigan (Frances Lincoln, £6.99)

The distances between the Ireland of the Famine and Australia’s goldfields are skilfully bridged in a young heroine’s story of courage and determination.

Age: 10

Fever Crumb

By Philip Reeve (Scholastic, £12.99)

A London where history and fantasy coalesce sees 14-year-old Fever search for her origins and save the capital from destruction.

Age: 12

It’s a Secret!

By John Burningham (Walker, £11.99)

A cat’s nocturnal activities – and their consequences – are at the heart of this beautifully conceived picture book.

Age: four

Millie’s Marvellous Hat

By Satoshi Kitamura (Andersen, £11.99)

A little girl’s longing for an expensive hat is gratified by an invisible one: a picture book celebrating childhood imagination.

Age: four


By Rachel Ward (The Chicken House, £6.99)

The ability to foresee the date of someone’s death brings its complications for teenager Jem and her friend Spider.

Age: 15


By Marcus Sedgwick (Orion, £9.99)

An Arctic setting, a boy, a dead father, a menacing stranger – and a revolver: from these ingredients a totally engrossing story emerges.

Age: 12

Rowan the Strange

By Julie Hearn (Oxford, £10.99)

A 13-year-old schizophrenic undergoes electric shock therapy: his reactions to it and to his fellow patients provide an intense, thought-provoking narrative.

Age: 13

Solace of the Road

By Siobhan Dowd (David Fickling, £10.99)

Fourteen-year-old Holly Hogan travels, by road and ferry, from London to Ireland to be reunited with her mother: there are numerous revelations en route.

Age: 14

Tabby McTat

By Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Scholastic, £10.99)

A delightful rhyming story celebrates the adventures of a straying busker’s cat.

Age: four

Tales from Outer Suburbia

By Shaun Tan (Templar, £12.99)

Quirky anecdotes and quirky artwork combine to provide offbeat insights into humankind’s strange ways.

Age: 10

Tender Morsels

By Margo Lanagan (David Fickling, £12.99)

A mother and her daughters move between real and fantasy worlds in this multi-layered and frequently disturbing novel.

Age: 16

The Ant Colony

By Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins, £6.99)

A 17-year-old runaway boy, living in a Camden Town squat, finds friendship in an unlikely source: a well plotted, engrossing story.

Age: 13

The Ask and the Answer

By Patrick Ness (Walker, £12.99)

On the planet called New World teenagers Todd and Viola struggle valiantly with the pains of separation and loss.

Age: 14

The Bride’s Farewell

By Meg Rosoff (Penguin, £10.99)

A young Victorian woman walks away from her wedding and encounters unexpected developments on travels with her brother.

Age: 14

The Crowded Shadows

By Celine Kiernan (O’Brien, €10.99)

Wynter Moorehawk’s travels – and travails – through the darkening European forests continue in pursuit of her “rebel” friend, Prince Alberon.

Age: 13

The Death Defying Pepper Roux

By Geraldine McCaughrean (Oxford, £12.99)

Pepper, on his 14th birthday, embarks on various colourful adventures, determined to thwart the prophecy of an early death.

Age: 12

The Demon’s Lexicon

By Sarah Rees Brennan (Simon Schuster, £6.99)

Two teenage brothers, their mother and an aura of magic, necromancy and demonology provide the material for a stylishly written novel guaranteed to appeal to all fans of gothic fantasy.

Age: 13

The Lion, the Unicorn and Me

By Jeanette Winterson, illustrated by Rosalind MacCurrach (Scholastic, £12.99)

An attractively designed book relates the most famous of Christmas stories as seen through the eyes of a humble donkey.

Age: six


By Morris Gleitzman (Puffin, £5.99)

Felix and Zelda escape from the train transporting them to a concentration camp: a struggle for survival in the face of evil and cruelty ensues.

Age: 10

The Nutcracker

By Simon Stewart, illustrated by PJ Lynch (whowhatwherewhenwhy: W5, £12.99)

A seasonal outing for Hoffman’s well known story comes with a complementary mix of appealing narrative and attractive characterisation and settings.

Age: six


By Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (Roaring Books Press, $17.95)

A little girl speculates on what is entailed in moving between the “here” of her present and the “there” of her imaginings.

Age: four

What I Saw and How I Lied

By Judy Blundell (Scholastic, £6.99)

America, 1947: time for 15-year-old Evie to make shattering discoveries about her family’s secrets – and to experience the pangs of first love.

Age: 14

Wheels of War

By Sally Prue (Oxford, £5.99)

Two young men, caught up in the consequences of civil war, learn to reconsider their notions of heroes and heroism.

Age: 12

The White Horse Trick

By Kate Thompson (Bodley Head, £10.99)

Late 21st century Ireland, scarred by climatic change and environmental damage, contrasts tellingly with the mythical world of Tir na nÓg.

Age: 13

The Wisdom of Dead Men

By Oisín McGann (Corgi, £6.99)

Further shenanigans from the Wildensterns of Co Wicklow – “no ordinary family” – provide a compelling blend of fantasy and social history.

Age: 13

Robert Dunbar is a commentator on children’s books and a contributor to the recently published 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up,edited by Julia Eccleshare (Octopus Books)